Company values – without them, you could have a driverless car dilemma

Mercedes Benz F015 concept car (Pixabay)-703506-edited.jpg

Driverless cars are most definitely coming. A set of rules will need to be drawn up and agreed in order to govern their use. Will you need to have a licensed driver in the car? Will it have to have a steering wheel?

You may have seen the website which presents some scenarios to illustrate the potential moral dilemmas. Due to sudden brake failure, there is going to be an accident, but the car has a choice - does the driverless car mow down four old people, or four young people?  What about choosing to hit a wayward pedestrian, or hitting a wall and killing a passenger?

This reminds me of Isaac Asimov, the science fiction writer who presciently devised the Three Laws of Robotics; they featured in his robot short stories and novels:

  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

A business needs a set of laws or rules in order to guide its behaviour. You could take Asimov’s Three Laws and replace “robot” and “human being” with a selection from “customer”, “employee”, “stakeholder” and so on, but you probably wouldn’t get anything with enough depth or specifics to be much use.

On the Business Growth Programme, we encourage the participants to devise (or revisit if they already have them) a set of Company Values. Large corporates can handle getting a bit grandiose in this exercise (see Johnson & Johnson’s Our Credo), but I think SMEs are best served with something more simple – a list of half a dozen or so values should be enough to underpin the company’s conduct and style. Imagine the business is on a journey towards a Vision. The Company Values define the kinds of behaviour you embrace and accept for the journey – will it be an orderly convoy, with coordinated rest stops and shared provisions? Or will it be a far looser caravan, with an acceptance that some (with their eye on the prize) will go much faster and leave some behind?

Typical themes for these values include honesty, integrity, teamwork and loving the customer, and I think these ideas are quite valid. However, I recommend that the SME owner-manager spend some time with as many of his colleagues and employees as possible and involve them in defining the Company Values. Ask them to talk about what they want their company to be like, and how they want to interact with each other and their customers. In collating all these ideas, remember the ways in which they were expressed. Try to construct the final version with words which directly relate to the business, and are part of your culture. This makes them easier to relate to and more memorable. Rather than “We have a transparent company”, what about “We are open to everyone, and we are keen to share what we know and teach others.”

Once finalised, the Company Values need to be presented to the company, and then continually reinforced. You might give printed copies to every employee, and a full explanation should certainly be part of your induction process for new employees. Consider publishing them as part of your company marketing collateral. Revisit them with the company often, at meetings and events. Quote from them when making decisions or discussing an issue.

Strong Company Values give a firm foundation to a successful business. Your Company Values prescribe how your business behaves, what you collectively see as important, what you do when faced with tricky issues and challenges. They are a fundamental part of your company culture and help inform everyone that “this is the way we do things around here”.


Thank you to Peter Swanson, MA (Cantab), BGP Counsellor and Visiting Fellow, for this blog post.

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